Alberta’s oilsands need an energy infrastructure as big as Ontario’s

Ontario nuclear plantBrian Wang, who blogs at Advanced Nano, has a guest post at The Oil Drum surveying what’s involved in using nuclear reactors, rather than natural gas, to power the vast facilities in Alberta’s oilsands that extract the oil from the sand.

I’m not going to lie to you: it’s extremely technical, and probably needlessly so. But here’s the nut:

If oil prices stay high and we go past peak oil and the prices go higher then it seems that making the nuclear reactors to extract the most oil for other purposes is the way to go. If all current conventional oil in North America had to be replaced with oil from the oilsands that would be about 24 million bpd [barrels per day]. 9 billion barrels per year. If Henuset/AECL/CERI are correct in the 500,000-630,000 bpd estimate [for the extraction work that one nuclear plant can power] then 48 of the 2.2[-gigawatt] twin reactors would be needed for the SAGD extraction process.

Forty-eight plants, 96 actual reactors, to power all the oilsands production if they were to supply all of North America’s oil needs.

So it’s an outside estimate, current production being only about a million barrels a day and even optimistic estimates of expansion reaching only about four million barrels a day in the foreseeable future. At four million barrels a day, we’d be talking about 16 reactors, in a province that currently has none.

Ontario, Canada’s most nuclear-dependent province, has 22 reactors for power-generation, only 16 of them functional and none of them as big as the ones Wang is talking about. The “fleet” has been a nonstop headache of underbudgeted repairs and blown-schedule refuelings for years for the succession of poor suckers who’ve been energy minister in the province, and the taxpayers who pay the bills for the provincial power system.

So anyway, that gives us a sense of the scale of what’d be involved in taking the oilsands nuclear. It’s big.

(Photo credit: Untitled, Flickr/Bahman.)


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